Animal abuse: What practitioners need to know - Veterinary Medicine
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Animal abuse: What practitioners need to know


Rollin's analogy to children touches on the heart of how society's concept of companion animals has changed in the last century. A 2001 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) survey of 1,225 pet owners who used AAHA hospitals reported that 84% of respondents refer to themselves as the mother or father of their pets.3

Central to this change in attitude about animals was the belated recognition that animals are capable of feeling pain and that their pain is qualitatively similar to human pain. It is a relatively short step from recognizing animal pain to acknowledging that animals are abused, and, finally, to accepting the ethical responsibility to become involved when pain is inflicted on purpose for no legitimate reason.

Rollin has also been in the forefront of drafting legislation to limit pain in laboratory animals and is an advocate for pain control in animals in confinement agriculture. In both areas, he says, modern business imperatives have trumped the ethics of husbandry extending back to antiquity. In 1985, Rollin and three colleagues from Colorado State University drafted amendments to the Animal Welfare Act considered groundbreaking in establishing the concept of animal pain and suffering.

Dr. Levitzke says he is beyond tolerance where abuse is concerned. The very day he was asked to recall how he felt when Darwin was presented on his examination table, he had just obtained radiographs of a puppy he thinks was strangled by the boyfriend of the woman who brought the puppy in. And the day before he had treated a 2-year-old indoor-only Yorkie with such severe skull and jaw fractures that his best guess is that the injuries could only have been caused by a door being slammed on the dog's head. Without hesitation, he called the ASPCA animal investigators in both cases.

"Those animals have nobody to stick up for them," Dr. Levitzke says. "As veterinarians, we are their last resort."

The tie to interpersonal violence

Another reason veterinarians should confront animal abuse: Researchers have identified a correlation between animal abuse and interpersonal violence. Some researchers think veterinarians may be the first to see signs of interpersonal violence when they examine animal patients.

Parallel paths: Society awakens to the abuse of children and animals
The research correlating animal abuse and interpersonal violence has been slow in coming, but its case is building.4-9 "Veterinarians today are where pediatricians were 50 years ago—before Kempe and the battered child syndrome" says Randall Lockwood, PhD, senior vice president, Anti-Cruelty Initiatives and Training, ASPCA, and one of the key researchers examining links between animal abuse and human abuse (see boxed text "Parallel paths: Society awakens to the abuse of children and animals"). Only a handful of studies have been done, but the findings are compelling.

Frank R. Ascione, PhD, professor of psychology at Utah State University, dates the first writing in psychology about animal abuse and human violence with its earliest thinkers—Phillippe Pinel in the early 1800s and Sigmund Freud in the early 1900s—but says the landmark paper on the subject, published in 1971, was a series of case studies of children referred to clinicians for animal abuse and other problems.4 And Steven Kellert, PhD, and Alan P. Felthous, MD, he says, broke significant ground in the mid-1980s with their studies of incarcerated men,5 "establishing pretty clear indications that individuals incarcerated for violent crimes against people admitted to engaging in a lot of animal abuse."

Much of the research, like Kellert and Felthous' studies, has focused on captive populations of violent offenders or on battered women. In addition, researchers have probed for correlations between domestic violence and children who are cruel to animals.5

A study based on interviews of 92 mothers between 1996 and 2000 suggests that children who witness domestic violence are nearly three times more likely to participate in animal abuse than are children who are not witnesses.6 The mothers were from 47 families with a history of domestic violence and 45 families without.


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